I've been pursuing the "perfect" producitivty and project management system for over a decade now. Whether I'm working on a solo project or with large or small teams, I'm always looking for the right tech, tools & systems to make work as seamless and productive as possible.
Unfortunately, a problem snuck up on me that took me a long time to detect. I've recently experimented with a move away from "best in class" tools and found that it does indeed make for greater productivity...
The Best-in-Class Problem
Until recently, I've been using a stack of productivity and project management tools, each of which I consider a best-in-class tool. That includes Trello for personal and small-team project management, Jira for larger scale software development management, Google Drive for storage, file sharing, documents and notes, Slack for remote team communication and several other tools, each with a specialized purpose.
These tools are all excellent and working with this stack has been highly effective for me.
There is an efficiency problem that appears in the gaps of any stack of tools. I mean that literally: the problem isn't any specific tool, it's the gaps between the tools. It's the fact that you have to switch between different tools for different jobs and that you have to create a "meta system" that is shared in a team, so that people know what is stored where and how to use each of the different tools.
I'm sure you're no stranger to searching through emails, Slack messages, files, folders etc. trying to find that one specific thing you need right now...
The Notion Experiment
When I started working with a new team this year, I decided to try an experiment. Instead of using the same set of tools I was used to, I started to search for ways in which to reduce this app-switching friction I'd been experiencing.
This is why we started working with Notion.
Notion is an app that's a bit difficult to explain. Technically, it's a database app. You can create databases and customize and display them in almost any way you can think of.
But that doesn't sound very exciting, does it?
So, let me showcase a few ways in which we use Notion:
Take Notes Like in Google Docs or Evernote
Notion lets you create and organize notes and documents in groups, folders, pages and any other way you'd like to. It offers an excellent writing experience (with markdown support) and a global search function so you can find any document from anywhere in the app.
You can also share documents with people on your team or make them public and you can leave comments and feedback directly in a document.
Track Projects Like in Trello or Asana
If you're used to tracking projects on a Kanban style board (think: Trello), Notion has you covered. You can easily switch between a list view and a Kanban view of your tasks and you can use tags, priority levels, due dates, assignments and drag-and-drop functionality as you'd expect.
To-Do Lists, Tables, Toggles & More
Within a Notion page, you can create a rich layout of text, media, checklists, links and even tables. This is where Notion goes beyond being your typical note-taking app.
Whether you want to track tasks, write SOPs, compile research, manage schedules or pretty much anything else you can think of, in Notion, you can probably do it.
And the key here is: there are no restrictions to how you use these features. You can have a page that contains several kanban-style boards and each "card" in each board can contain any content you wish for, including further kanban boards. You can categorize, group and nest boards within lists, within pages in any configuration you want.
The Aesthetic Factor
I should also mention that Notion is quite pleasing to look at. It's a clean, uncluttered user interface, coupled with good typography. There's also a dark mode, for those who prefer it:
Is it Worth the Switch?
The summary above gives you an idea of the wide range of things that can be done in the Notion app. But is it really worth switching from your familiar tools to this?
Here's my experience with this, so far:
- Notion is not "the best" at everything. Trello is a better Kanban app than Notion, for example.
- Notion doesn't replace all our work tools (of course). We still use Loom as an important communication tool, we use Frame.io for video feedback and so on.
- The increased efficiency from having more stuff in one place and fewer apps to switch between has already paid off. Having a "less than best" tool, but having everything in one place is a productivity win, overall.
- As a note-taking and writing app, Notion is excellent. I now use it for all my personal as well as business related writing. In the past, I've used Google Docs, Evernote, iAwriter and a slew of other apps in the past. Notion beats them all, easily.
- Notion gives you loads of freedom to design your own worspaces, templates, workflows etc. The flipside of that is a learning curve: it takes longer to get the hang of than a simpler tool like Trello.
Based on this, I hope you can assess whether Notion is an app you want to try out or not. The good news is that the app is free for personal use, so you can give it a risk-free spin if you fancy.
If you're interested in learning more about how to use Notion to increase your personal productivty and work more effectively with teams, let me know by leaving a comment!